The Semi-Mythical Maelgwn Gwynedd Pt 5

by JoHarrington

Few men have attracted so many myths and legends to themselves as Maelgwn Gwynedd. But perhaps there's a very good reason for that.

North Wales was a Catholic region during the reign of Maelgwn Gwynedd. But the Welsh have long memories.

Just over 400 years previously, his own heartland of Ynys Môn (Anglesey) held a very special place in the Druidic world. It was to Druidism what Vatican City is to Catholics today. An island filled with groves and schools devoted to teaching the Three Branches of the Druid faith.

Which was why the Romans smashed it.

While Boudicca's uprising was laying waste to Roman cities across the south, its legion was marching across hostile Britain, fighting all the way, in order to reach and destroy Ynys Môn. It was made a priority over everything else, because the Druids were inspiring Celtic mercenaries to join in the battle to stop the Roman conquest of Gaul.

They were supposed to be gone now. The Druids and their Celtic deities were nominally wiped from the face of Wales. But if they aren't lost in the 21st century, what on Earth makes anyone think they weren't there in the 6th?

The question of course being - to what extent did Maelgwn Gwynedd embrace the Old Ways?

NB I'm quoting a lot of bardic verse in this article, which is going to sound quite stilted and awkward. That's because they were all originally composed in Welsh and each loses much of the beautiful meter, when translated into English.

Thumbnail image by Dharma Communications.

Maelgwn Gwynedd and Melkin of Avalon

The former is well established. The identity of the latter is subject to much scholarly debate, but some hypothesize that they were one and the same.

This is a journey into the depths of native British spirituality, so where better to begin than in the mists of Avalon.

For some writers, whether Maelgwn Gwynedd attracted and patronized Druidic Bards isn't the question. More pertinent is if he was actually one of them. If so, then the main contender for Maelgwn's Bardic presence would be the shadowy figure of Melkin of Avalon.

The importance of this 5th-7th century Welsh bard/monk (details are vague at best) is that he apparently revealed a) the location of Avalon; b) the place where Joseph of Arimathea was buried; and c) the existence of a huge Pagan burial site.

This is why writers like Justin E. Griffin devote whole chapters to exploring all that is known about the man. He concluded that Maelgwn and Melkin are indeed the same individual.

Another aspect of major interest is that Melkin's words are prophetical in nature.

His surviving works basically talk of a tomb hidden in a mass of other burials. Hundreds of thousands of notable Pagans were interred in Avalon, with Joseph of Arimathea now joining them. The legendary uncle of Jesus Christ is surrounded by the sacred treasures of Britain, including two important vessels (cups/Holy Grails/bowls/cruets).

When the tomb is found and opened up, Britain will never need for 'water' nor the 'dew of Heaven'.

If Melkin IS Maelgwn, then this constitutes the only remaining fragment of text written in Maelgwn's own words. For that reason, I will reproduce it here in its entirety.

Melkin's Prophecy in Latin

Our oldest surviving version is from the 14th century.

Hec scriptura inuenitur in libro melkini, qui fuit ante merlinum:
Insula auallonis auida funere paganorum, pre ceteris in orbe ad sepulturam eorum omnium sperulis propheciae vaticinantibus decorata, & in futurum ornata erit altissimum laudantibus. Abbadare, potens in Saphat, paganorum nobilissimus, cum centum et quatuor milibus domiicionem ibi accepit. Inter quos ioseph de marmore, ab Armathia nomine, cepit sompnum perpetuum; Et iacet in linea bifurcata iuxta meridianum angulum oratori, cratibus praeparatis, super potentem adorandam virginem, supradictis sperulatis locum habitantibus tredecim. Habet enim secum Ioseph in sarcophago duo fassula alba & argentea, cruore prophete Jhesu & sudore perimpleta. Cum reperietur ejus sarcofagum, integrum illibatum in futuris videbitur, & erit apertum toto orbi terrarium. Ex tunc aqua, nec ros coeli insulam nobilissimam habitantibus poterit deficere. Per multum tempus ante diem Judioialem in iosaphat erunt aperta haec, & viventibus declarata.
Hucusque melkinus.

Melkin's Prophecy in English

This is just one version of the difficult to translate text.

This scripture is found in the book of Melkini, who had been before Merlin:
The Isle of Avalon, greedy for the death of pagans, more than all others in the world, for their entombment, decorated beyond all others by portentous spheres of prophecy, and in the future, adorned shall it be, by them that praise the most high. Abbadare, mighty in judgement, noblest of pagans, has fallen asleep there with 104,000 others (or 104 knights), among these, Joseph of Arimathea has found perpetual sleep in a marble tomb, and he lies on a two forked line, next to the southern angle of an oratory, where the wattle is prepared above the mighty maiden and in the place of the 13 spheres.
For Joseph has with him in his sarcophagus two white and silver vessels, filled with the blood and sweat of the prophet Jesus and when his sarcophagus is uncovered, it will be seen whole and undisturbed, and will be opened to the whole world.
Thenceforth those who dwell in that noble isle, will lack neither water nor the dew of heaven. For a long while before the day of judgment (ludioialem) in Josaphat, open shall these things be and declared to the living, thus far Melkin.

I have no Latin at all, so I am indebted to the King Arthur website for both versions. If you're interested in learning more about Melkin of Avalon, and the implications of his text, then that is a great place to begin your quest.

By all accounts though (I have four books open on the desk before me, with four different authors saying the same thing), Melkin's Prophecy is a horrendously difficult fragment of Latin prose to translate into English. Various words and phrases can have a multitude of meanings. Therefore one translation might end up implying hugely different things to another. 

In addition, our oldest surviving version of it comes from John of Glastonbury, who recorded his version in the 14th century. This was also a period in which monks from Glastonbury Abbey desperately needed pilgrims - more to the point, their cash - and weren't above creating reasons for people to visit.

Links between all manner of illustrious folk - including Jesus Christ and King Arthur - and Glastonbury began to surface around this time. In short, we have no way of knowing what was originally in Melkin's writing, and what John of Glastonbury sneaked in there. Waffling on about Joseph of Arimathea, for example, sounds precisely like something that a 14th century Glastonbury monk might have inserted.

There are some scholars who believe that he forged the whole document, but they are thwarted by the fact that earlier mentions of Melkin's Prophecy exist. Unfortunately, those dating from the 7th-14th century never recount the actual content, though they do reveal that it was written in the British language, not Latin.

It's intriguing to ponder whether the original - and this is PURE speculation by myself and other analysts - actually had a Celtic deity, like Bran the Blessed, in place of Joseph of Arimathea.  Or Gwyn ap Nydd.  Or Afallach.  In which case the basic tale would chime against other British legends, and become much more Pagan.

Only those legends emanating from Medieval monasteries - and Glastonbury Abbey in particular - attempted to frame the Isle of Avalon as a Christian place. Every other reference has been undoubtedly Pagan.

Even the Christian ones are generally thinly disguised co-opted Pagan legends, or involve various saints defeating monsters, fey or any other manifestation of the old Gods.

Some writers read into Melkin's Prophecy an historical description of a real world event. The sacraments of Druidism being hidden inside a grave, which itself was amidst thousands of other Pagan graves. Thus to safeguard them against a) the rise of Christianity and b) the coming of the Saxon hordes.

Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd went further still. They located this area - and therefore Avalon - within the sixth century borders of Gwynedd.

It's the area dominated by the hill-fort ruins of Caerfallwch (Caer Afallach), in modern day Flintshire. The area is bordered by Halkyn Mountain, the Flintshire-Delyn mountain ridge/plateau, onto the Ruabon Mountain (and its moorland) above Llangollen and back through the Berwyns.

Berwyn, incidentally, coming from 'bree' (or 'bryn') + Gwyn. Hill of Gwyn (ap Nydd), and overlooking the Nant Gwyn (Gwyn's stream) Valley.

'The true location of Arthur's kingdom revealed' is the tag-line for this new look at the Arthurian legend. To my mind, it's the most convincing history of events out there.

In the sixth century, Maelgwn's borders encompassed land which is now in Cheshire, England. Caerfallwch overlooks the River Dee and beyond that The Wirral, which the authors determined was the real world location of the legendary Grail Castle. In other words, the place where successive Arthurian legends have placed the Holy Grail.

Just in case I lost you somewhere in this mass of implications and conjecture, let me spell it out.

  • Avalon could well be the Medieval name for a huge (real world) Pagan Land of the Dead. It encompassed a massive area, wherein many hundreds of thousands were buried according to ancient British rites. (Melkin)
  • This area was within the borders of Gwynedd at the time of Maelgwn. (Blake and Lloyd)
  • Sacred items were buried within it. This is said to be the Holy Grail (though some writers have speculated that all the late Medieval talk of the Holy Grail replaced earlier references to British treasures - like Bran's cauldron). (Melkin and Various)
  • According to Celtic legends, the Holy Grail is really in the Grail Castle. (Various) Which may be across the River Dee from Avalon, thus not putting Melkin and the other legends in conflict. (Blake and Lloyd)
  • Melkin's writing dates from the 5th-7th centuries. Maelgwn lived during the early to mid 6th century. If he IS Melkin, then he just told us precisely where he had the Treasures of Britain hidden for safe-keeping.  And if he isn't, then the real Melkin told us where the same were hidden within Maelgwn's borders.

And just in case anyone needs more, then the ridge below Caerfallwch is called Cefn Eurgain (Eurgain's Ridge). It lies above the village of Northop (English), or in Welsh Llaneurgain (Enclosure - or Church - of Eurgain), and the accompanying monastery of Monachlog, all of which was richly endowed during Maelgwn Gwynedd's reign, on account of the fact that St Eurgain was his daughter.

I do feel like I should have put 'saint' in inverted commas just then, because I've read her purported biographies and if she was Christian, then so am I. She headed a college of thirteen people called the Cor Eurgain (stones/circle/choir of Eurgain) based right there for a start, which couldn't be more Bardic if it tried.

Plus she was influential enough that her name became retrospectively ninja-ed into all manner of religious histories. Usually with the aim of converting Pagans to Christianity, on the basis that Eurgain was not only a Christian herself, but actually - and despite plenty of evidence to the contrary - the one to introduce the faith into Britain!  By the time the Medieval monks had finished with her, she must have been at least 600 years old, predating her own father by about 550 of them.

Meanwhile, modern day Pagans are busy noting other legendary connections. Like Maelgwn's daughter being the head of a closed group of priestesses in Avalon, which sounds exactly like the historical prototype for Morgan Le Fey. Not to mention that Eurgain sounds close enough to Morgaine for the etymology to pan out.

Morgan Le Fey and Her sisters surrounding the bier of King Arthur in Avalon.
Jones - Death of King Arthur Art Print Poster

Then we get the fact that Maelgwn's eldest son was fathered in ways that distinctly upset BOTH St Illtyd and St Gildas. Rhun's mother was apparently Gwallwen, daughter of Afallach. The latter being variously akin to Nudd - Lord of the Underworld, King of the Fairies - or the Fisher King, custodian of the Grail Castle. Gwallwen's sister was Modron, Cymric Mother Goddess and/or Sovereignty of the entire British Isles.

In short, Maelgwn's daughter was a Druid priestess; his son was the product of a sacred liaison with another Druidess; and he possibly oversaw the safe-keeping burial of the Druidic Treasures of Britain. Then he may well have left clues to the whereabouts of those Pagan sacraments in Melkin's Prophecy.  Which is possibly why Gildas despaired of him.

Too much of this is pure conjecture to fully hold up as a proven testament, particularly when so many aspects have been Christianized by Medieval monks much later on. That they needed to speaks volumes about the importance of the Prophecy, in addition to the fact that the only surviving fragment is the precise bit that gives us the whereabouts of the treasures!

It would all hold much more water, if we could find any other hint of Maelgwn Gwynedd as the keeper of treasures and/or the guardian of the Celtic Underworld.  Like, for example, this one coming right up.

The River Dee from Flint Overlooking The Wirral

Were these taken from fabled Avalon? Are we looking towards the place where Maelgwn Gwynedd hid the Treasures of Britain for the Druids?

Maelgwn Gwynedd and Gwyn ap Nudd

A poem from 'The Black Book of Carmarthen' links Maelgwn with the British God of the Underworld Gwyn ap Nudd.

The Dialogue Between Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn ap Nudd includes reference to the latter's dog Dormarth (or Dormach) of the Ruddy Nose.

The hound's name translates as 'death's door', which gives a hint towards its most common role - the leader of the Cwn Annwn.

(Incidentally, the distinction between Avalon, Annwn and Afallwch/Afallach was originally very slight. They're all Faery, Otherworld or Underworld realms.)

In Welsh legend, those ferocious dogs come when somebody dies to chase them into the Afterworld Annwn. As that's Gwyn's job too, and he leads the Cwn Annwn in the Wild Hunt every May, then this is all as it should be.

Except the poem says that Maelgwn gave Dormarth to Gwyn ap Nudd.

Gwyn

Handsome my dog, and round-bodied,
And truly the best of dogs; Dormarth was he, which belonged to Maelgwyn.

Gwyddno

Dormarth with the ruddy nose! what a gazer
Thou art upon me because I notice Thy wanderings on Gwibir Vynyd...

Which is quite a curious statement, because why would a real life 6th century chieftain not only present a British God with a dog (unless it was a sacrifice), but that particular hound?

It also seems quite awkwardly placed. In the lines leading into it, the dialogue is all about a terrible battle at Caer Vandwy (God's Peak Fortress), wherein few survived. Gwyn ap Nudd witnessed it all, as he was there in his official capacity as God of the Underworld.  (This battle is also mentioned in the Arthurian legend The Spoils of Annwn, where we're told only seven survived amidst both armies.)

So it's 'blah, blah, lots of dead British people, blah, blah, battle - oh! By the way, do you like the lovely dog that Maelgwn Gwynedd gave me?  Dormarth's the leader of my pack of Cwn Annwn, you know!'  At least that's how it reads to me.

Gwyddno - the 6th century chieftain of a flooded region, which was said to have been located where Cardigan Bay now lies - agrees that the dog is very nice, and comments that he's seen Dormarth running around Gwibir Vynyd (Mountain in the Clouds). Then the conversation promptly switches to the Battle of Arfderydd.

This was a real world clash, dated to circa 573 CE, wherein two chieftains of the Old North slogged it out for sovereignty over a region stretching from Lancashire to Strathclyde, i.e. nowhere near Gwynedd. Though I have recently read at least two attempts to relocate it there, and one which reworked the dates from the Annals Cambraie in order to have Maelgwn fighting at Arfderydd, despite historians generally agreeing that he died nearly thirty years before.

However, one aspect might be relevant. Arfderydd is mostly famous for being the battle after which Merlin went mad. But It's also a renowned clash between a Pagan and a Christian chieftain, seen as one of the earliest such which may have had as much to do with religion as territorial gains.

It's the Pagan leader Gwenddoleu whom Gwyn ap Nudd mentions in the poem, after they've finished talking about Maelgwn's gift of an otherworldly dog. A link is implied, if not directly stated, between Gwenddoleu and Maelgwn.

However, I'd read it all much more specifically than that. To my mind, Gwyn ap Nudd is saying that Maelgwn's gift is to provide protection for the spiritual realm. The fact that the symbolism is a dog could be a play on Maelgwn's own name - Princely Hound, or Warrior Hound - or else could invoke the notion of a guard-dog. Both work and both were probably intended.

And the necessity for Maelgwn's role comes in the fact that Britons are battling Christians and invaders. Unless I'm reading too much into it.

(Another avenue of investigation may be the fact that St Kentigern (trans. Hound Chieftain), aka St Mungo, the legendary founder of Glasgow, was also said to have been at the battle of Arfderydd. The stories attached to him often run so parallel to those told about Maelgwn, that some are downright identical.)

The fact that it's Gwyddno speaking here could also be significant. Melkin's Prophecy states that Britons will never want for water (Britannia will indeed rule the waves). Gwyddno's lands were flooded into oblivion. However water was very sacred to the ancient Cymry. Wells, lakes and rivers tended to be populated with their own deities, and provided access to the spiritual realms. 'Water' could very easily be a metaphor for the Druidic religion.

Moreover, Gwyddno is generally viewed as the (adopted) grandfather of Taliesin. The Welsh Bardic tradition did more than anything else to preserve the legends and histories of the Old Religion, and Taliesin was its undoubted champion.

And he too had a significant series of encounters with Maelgwn Gwynedd.

Discover More about Avalon, Annwn and Afallach

I do feel like I'm rushing through reams of information here, which might be better grasped with more understanding of the realms in question.

The Importance of Maelgwn Gwynedd

He didn't just earn the censure of the solitary Christian voice surviving amongst the Britons, but the premier Bardic one too.

When it comes to Bardic stories mentioning Maelgwn Gwynedd, the greatest of all involves Britain's most legendary Bard - Taliesin. 

In fact, my interest in Maelgwn Gwynedd was piqued by the realization that he's the focus of both the primary 6th century British manuscript (Gildas) and a main legend of Taliesin. The odds of being in one are astronomical, requiring a great deal of luck.  To be in both is quite startling, when you consider it.

From this period and place, we're all still talking about Arthur, but he's mentioned in neither.

For Maelgwn Gwynedd to have been in a position to be mentioned in even one, then he must have been amongst the most powerful individuals in Britain at the time. For him to have been the central figure in both provides the strongest indication of his influence in 6th century Britain.

He was the Pendragon - the British High King - during a period of huge change and conflict. That alone would have drawn attention towards him. But his personality shines through too. Those recording his exploits, using him in their parables and heroic tales or berating him publicly weren't attacking a title, they were targeting the man himself.

The Song of Taliesin

This famous legend sets the scene for his encounter with Maelgwn Gwynedd.
A beautiful singing baby and the wrath of a shape-shifting Goddess are just two of the wonders that turn up in the childhood(s) of this legendary Welsh bard.

Taliesin on the Distributor

Before we wander into the main legend, there is another snippet worth evaluating. Do these lines of verse indicate a powerful British chieftain following the Old Religion?

Gwyddno Garanhir - already discussed in conversation with Gwyn ap Nudd - is known from the Song of Taliesin to have had a son named Elffin.  They were together when twice-born Gwion Bach turned up in their weir. It was Elffin who named, adopted and raised the young Taliesin.

In the Song Before the Sons of Llyr, Taliesin later wrote:

I liberated my lord in the presence of the Distributor.
Elffin the sovereign of greatly aspiring ones.

There's another mention of this individual later on:

In the festivals of the Distributor, who bestowed gifts upon me.
The chief astrologers received wonderful gifts.

Taliesin then goes on to talk about Caer Sidi, which is a fortress that often turns up in Welsh legends. Each time, its attributes alter very slightly, so it's equally an island, a cloud city, a subterranean citadel or a bog standard British defensive dwelling, depending upon the source. It's certainly kept historians and folklorists busy trying to work out what the Annwn it is, but for what it's worth, my best guess is the Otherworld, Land of Faery, aka Avalon, Afallach etc.

(And if you persist in thinking of the fairy folk as inch high fluttering things trailing glitter, then you've certainly not spent enough time with Welsh folklore, or indeed any Celtic lore.)

The importance of this tale cannot be over-estimated.  Six centuries later, Llywarch ap Llywelyn was to address a verse to Llewellyn the Great (King of Gwynedd and Maelgwn's descendant), referring to those same events:

I will address my Lord, with the greatly greeting muse,
With the dowry of Cerridwen, the Ruler of Bardism,
As Taliesin formed, when Elffin was set free,
When he over-shaded the Bardic mystery
With the banners of the Bards.

That really does sound much more impressive in Welsh! Particularly the last two lines:

Yn dull Taliesin yn dillwng Elffin
Yn dyllest Barddrin Beirdd vanieri.

For Llywarch to even be telling us this, as a 13th century bard, is evidence enough that Taliesin pulled off something quite amazing in that court of the Distributor. He did no less than ensure that the Bardic Mysteries could survive.

So there's a generous person who hosts festivals, keeps astrologers and is vaguely associated with Caer Sidi, and who provided an opportunity whereby Taliesin could claim back and safe-guard the Bardic Mysteries ('great gifts'). We can work out who this is by looking to see from whom Taliesin had to liberate Elffin. 

That would be Maelgwn Gwynedd.

Books about Taliesin

I do recommend those by John Matthews. He and his wife Caitlin are very good writers, with demonstrable insight into the Celtic Mysteries.

Elffin ap Gwyddno Challenges Maelgwn Gwynedd

The Pendragon was notorious for his foul temper, and never more than when he was publicly humiliated. There was pride on the line here too.

The story, as told today, takes place at Christmas. Maelgwn Gwynedd sits at his court in Degannwy, at the head of a gathering of important nobles from across Britain. Neither Taliesin, nor the Mabinogion names them, but later versions of the tale do.

That guest list is a perfect example of why you trust the story, not the story-teller:

* Dylan - Welsh God of the Sea.

* Gwenhwyfar - Possibly Arthur's wife and queen, but She in turn was named for the Goddess of Sovereignty.

* Cyledr - Legendary Welsh warrior, who went insane under capture and torture, hence his usual epithet of Cyledr Wyllt (Wild Cyledr). He was forced to eat his father's heart and later helped Arthur capture the Twrch Trywyth. For our purposes, let's just say that he's representative of ancient British spirituality and/or Druidry at its most primal.

* Ysbaddaden, son of Brian - Chief of Giants, who's named in the story as 'a very small man'!  It's a bit of an in-joke for those who know their Welsh mythology. However, we're looking at Bran the Blessed in disguise. In other words, the Father God of the Britons.

* Cecil Hoggit - I'll admit to being stumped here. His name has been Anglicized out of all comprehension for me. Consider this a call for illumination, if any reader should know his origin. His first name, returned to the Cymric, would be Seisyll, which means 'the seventh'. Hoggit isn't even nearly Welsh! However, he is described as very tall, and Beli Mawr (the dwarf ancestral Cymric God) is very conspicuous by his absence in such company.

These were amongst the crowd gathered to sing the praises of Maelgwn Gwynedd. To hear their sycophantic speeches, their chieftain was the greatest entity ever to have lived. Then there was Elffin.

For those who read, or listened to, the Song of Taliesin, you will recall him as the man who pulled the infant from the ocean. He and his wife had been raising the child for the past thirteen years. Elffin is usually named as Maelgwn Gwynedd's nephew, hence he was at the Christmas banquet too. Only he could tell no lies to his overlord.

When Maelgwn's wife Sannan was called the fairest, most virtuous and beautiful woman in the realm, Elffin countered with similar praise for his own wife Ellyw. When Maelgwn's bards were called the greatest in Britain, Elffin spoke of his pre-pubescent adopted son.  Perhaps slightly intoxicated by the free-flowing alcohol and the danger of the moment, he also added that his horse was swifter than any in Maelgwn's stables.

The last wasn't true.

Maelgwn Gwynedd lost his temper and had his nephew Elffin dragged away in irons. But those claims had been made before the whole court. They had to be disproved.

The Misfortunes of Elphin

In the beginning of the sixth century, when Uther Pendragon held the nominal sovereignty of Britain over a number of petty kings, Gwyddno Garanhir was king of Ceredigion. The mo...

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The Testing of Ellyw

She had been called more pure than the Pendragon's own wife. It was an implied insult that could not be ignored.

Rhun, son of Maelgwn, was said to be irresistible to any warm-blooded woman.

Heartrendingly gorgeous with a deep charm to match, his smile enticed many a young British maid into the hay. Therefore, he was the obvious choice to test the virtue and loyalty of Elffin's wife.

Rhun set off with a band of men to Elffin's llys on the southern shores of the Llyn Peninsula, where the rules of hospitality would gain him a welcome.

And just to ensure more, he'd packed a 'magic powder' which - once sneaked into a drink - would prompt the affections of any lady.

Upon arrival at Elffin's llys, the gates were thrown open. Rhun and his band rode inside and were afforded a feast, mead and lodgings. Maelgwn's son was served personally by the Lady of the House.

Soon one thing led to another. Rhun was quickly able to entice the Lady into his bed. Her virtue was easily surrendered, several times, throughout the night. And, in the morning, Rhun ap Maelgwn took the Lady's finger - adorned with Elffin's ring - and severed it clean away. It was his proof of the sexual conquest, and evidence that Elffin's Lady was not so faithful after all.

Except the Lady was not Ellyw.

In that household, the adolescent Taliesin, filled with awen and the wisdom of the ages, had foreseen the coming of Rhun. He'd taken Ellyw aside and warned her, not only of her husband's imprisonment, but of the testing to come.

She couldn't refuse Rhun. That would be dangerous. It would bring the wrath of Maelgwn Gwynedd onto their little court. But neither could she give herself to the chieftain's son. Beyond all other consideration, that would condemn Elffin to languishing forever in the darkness.

Ellyw called upon her oldest servant and friend for a favor. The housekeeper Diridano was dressed in Ellyw's clothes and draped in her jewelry. For one night, Diridano became the Lady of the House, while Ellyw served as housekeeper.

It was Diridano's bloody finger that was presented in Maelgwn's court, pressed as proof of impurity into Elffin's face. And the prisoner denied, in all truth, that it was his wife's finger. He pointed out the calluses and broken nail of hard work in a kitchen. This was not a noble lady's finger.

Maelgwn Gwynedd was humiliated again, as his whole court accepted the truth. Ellyw's reputation remained intact. Her wisdom retained her purity throughout her testing. (Though the legend doesn't recall what happened to poor Diridano in the aftermath.)

Books about Women in Ancient Celtic Culture

The portrayal of women in Celtic history has been subject to much amendments over the centuries, but some truths still gleam through.

Heinen Fardd and the Bards of Deganwy

Elffin's second challenge concerned the bards at the court of Maelgwn Gwynedd. We know from various sources that they existed.

It's without question that Maelgwn Gwynedd entertained Bards in his court of Deganwy.

In part four, we explored how St Gildas went on and on (and on and on) about them. The saint was mostly concerned with the fact that they weren't precisely singing the praises of the Christian God. That would imply that they were composing praise poems to their patron, as well as singing about native spirituality, history and genealogies, as was the wont of British Bards.

However, we gain much more information from investigating that tradition itself.

We're told, for example, that Maelgwn Gwynedd initiated the first Eisteddfod. He was the chieftain who encouraged Bards to come from miles around to compete for a Chair. He wanted the very best to shine in the limelight.

It's a snippet of folklore which doesn't fit well with the implications from the tale of Taliesin, and Gildas's rant, that Maelgwn was doing this in all arrogance. A great deal of water has been muddied, but reading between the lines will help out.

Another tale tells how Maelgwn hated harpists. He much preferred the vocalists. So he made it a condition of his Eisteddfod that all competitors had to swim across the River Conwy first. The sea-salt in the water damaged the harps, but not the vocal chords of singers. The latter invariably won the Chair.

A final story concerns Heinen Fardd, who is generally considered to be Maelgwn's chief Bard. When a number of chieftains challenged Maelgwn for the title of Pendragon (or High King), he consulted Heinen and the pair hatched a plan.

They arranged a row of thrones upon the shores of the River Dyfi with the challenge that all contenders sit upon them. The last to flee, as the high tide rose, would be the Pendragon. All the chieftains sat, some near drowned as the waves lapped over them, but eventually all swam to safety.

Except Maelgwn Gwynedd, who floated.

Heinen Fardd had constructed his throne of cork, hence it rose with the waves and conquered them. Henceforth the place where this took place was called Traeth Maelgwn (Maelgwn's beach) at Aber Dyfi (mouth of the River Dyfi), and he became the chief of all.

The Welsh Laws had another reference to this story, which named another wise man as the instigator of the floating throne:

And there Maeldav the elder, son of Unhwch Unachen, chief of Moel Esgidion in Meirionydd, placed a chair composed of waxed wings under Maelgwn, so when the tide flowed no one was able to remain excepting Maelgwn because of his chair.

Whether Heinen or Maeldav, the implication is clear. Maelgwn was High King because his power and influence was underscored by clever counselors. Bards and/or princely supporters able to use intelligence and trickery, where divine intervention may fail.

These were the people against whom Taliesin had been compared, and the latter declared superior. Now it merely had to be proven.

Taliesin at the Court of Maelgwn Gwynedd

The progeny (and prodigy) of Cerridwyn was just thirteen years old. It was old enough.

What happened next at Deganwy is frequently referred to as the most important moment in the history of British Bardic tradition.

It reads as a bog standard David and Goliath type tale, but there are layers of meaning not at all obvious from a plain reading.

They must be discerned from the ripples it caused; from the esteem of Llywarth writing so many centuries later; from the fact that this is the story told above all; from the survival of the Bardic system. And, above all, from the fact that we still gaze in wonder upon the name of Taliesin today.

Most tellings will frame Maelgwn Gwynedd as the arrogant villain, and Taliesin as whatever the chronicler wishes to make of him.

But remember that Maelgwn is The Distributor.

After Rhun and his warband left the llys of Elffin and Ellyw, it was apparent that Taliesin needed to go to Deganwy. Ellyw feared for his safety and tried to talk the young Bard out of his perilous journey. He went nonetheless.

With his harp on his back, the thirteen year old Bard trekked the distance to the Conwy River and sneaked into the court of Maelgwn Gwynedd. There he heard the Bards singing their songs of praise to their overlord. There Taliesin acted.

Hiding behind a pillar, he whispered enchantments to the hall. As Heinen Fardd and his twenty-four bards attempted to sing, their words emerged as gibberish. "Brrr! Brrr!  Brrr!  Broom! Broom! Broom!"  Not songs at all.

Maelgwn demanded to know what was going on, but Heinen couldn't answer him. As soon as they weren't attempting to perform, the bards could communicate well enough. They begged for a chance to redeem themselves. For three days, they went away to compose their greatest tunes. For three nights, they delivered mere plonking chords and chaotic noise. Nothing to recommend them there at all.

Then Taliesin stepped out into clear view and began to play.

Taliesin's 'Battle of the Trees'. This loses soooo much in English, I apologize for that, but the only solution is to learn enough Welsh to read the original.

And the whole court sat enrapt, as Taliesin played through the night, song after song, telling of the awen of Cerridwyn and the history of the Welsh; bringing the Mysteries of the Druids and Bards into the court of Maelgwn Gwynedd.

And as he called forth the elements, a great wind rose across the Menai Straits and into the Afon Conwy, smashing against the walls of Caer Deganwy and into the llys of Maelgwn, until the Pendragon begged for mercy. Taliesin complied and in the great silence that followed, Heinen Fardd rose to challenge him, but all that came from the old bard's mouth was 'Brrr! Brrr! Brrr! Broom!'.

Maelgwn's bards were crushed. Taliesin stood supreme amongst them, a pubescent boy with a harp raising the Great Mysteries and restoring the Bardic awen under the Pendragon's banner.

"Who are you?" asked Maelgwn Gwynedd.

"I am Taliesin." The youth replied, "The Bard of Elffin, whom you have imprisoned, and I am greater than any of your bards."

Actor Ioan Gruffudd performs 'I Am Taliesin' in Welsh, with English subtitles.

Novels about Taliesin Chief Bard of Britain

Not every dramatization of Taliesin's life follows the original legends, but they have the same theme. He is the legendary conscience of the Britons.

The Horse Race of Maelgwn and Taliesin

There was one more challenge which had to be overcome, before Taliesin could free Elffin from Deganwy's dungeon.

Elffin shouldn't have become carried away with his challenges. His horse was not greater than any in Maelgwn's stables, but nevertheless the boast was out there.

Taliesin was determined to prove its truth too.

A horse-race was set up upon the marshland of Morfa Rhianedd - a place which still exists on the eastern side of Deganwy, in modern day Llandudno. Maelgwn's prize stallions were set against Elffin's elderly nag. The odds looked laughable.

Yet Taliesin seemed unconcerned. He peered out across the race-course, then went gathering sticks.

Twenty-four burnt black hazel twigs were placed into the hand of Iorwerth ap Beli, Elffin's chosen jockey. The disgruntled rider was given instructions not to try to win. Instead he should lag behind and, as the other horses thundered by on their second lap, Iorwerth was to smack each on the rump with a hazel twig, then drop the stick to the ground.

This the jockey did. To the shock of all, every horse thus afflicted soon stopped dead in utter exhaustion. Eventually, only Elffin's horse Llwytyn (the grey) was left in the race. It ambled slowly alone until all laps were done and the finishing line crossed.

Then Iorwerth - still following Taliesin's instructions - let Llwytyn wander on until he too came to a natural halt. There the jockey dropped his hat.

Later, after Elffin had been brought forth in great ceremony and his irons dropped from his wrists, Taliesin ordered that the spot beneath the hat be excavated. There a cache of treasure was uncovered, which Taliesin awarded to his foster father, as compensation for the costs incurred in raising him.

The challenges of Elffin had all been tested and found true. Maelgwn Gwynedd swallowed his pride and liberated his nephew. While all the Cymry knew Taliesin to be the greatest Bard of all.

Taliesin by Paul Roland

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An Analysis of the Clash Between Maelgwn and Taliesin

These are pretty stories, but laden with hidden meaning. Let me help you pull away the veil a little, though I don't claim to have insight into it all.
The Bard, c.1817
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This is merely one more analysis amidst many, many more. Take it or leave it as you will.

Most commentators tend to describe those events in terms of 'Ha! Ha! Taliesin owned you, Maelgwn Gwynedd!' and leave it at that. A superficial reading would certainly support that interpretation.

Some see Taliesin as answering the call of Gildas. He came to remove Paganism from Deganwy and replace the bardic praise verse with that elevating the Christian God.

When faced with them, I do wonder whose verse they are reading, because Taliesin's own work seems to owe everything to Druidry in my view. Give or take the late Medieval insertions regarding God.

To all there is a sense that Maelgwn Gwynedd was brought to task by the boy genius, then left to smoulder in humiliation.

I note that Ellyw was later Christianized into St Ellyw. Her legend talks of a magical decapitation, whereby her virtue was defended so greatly against challengers, that she submitted to death over its loss. Then God put her back together again.

It's a legend which resonates with the same stories told of St Winifred in modern day Flintshire, or Denyw (Teneu), mother of St Mungo in Glasgow.

It doesn't take much digging to realize that Ellyw, Winifred and Denyw are all one and the same. They represent the utter failure of early Christian missionaries to undermine the stature of the Goddess Dwyngwyn. Hence they made Her a saint instead.

In short, Rhun had an encounter with the Welsh Maiden of Sovereignty, in Her guise as the Queen of the Wasteland. His bedding of Diridano is akin to that of Gawain abed with Ragnell. More pertinently, Diridano is basically Dindraine, who gave the blood of Her right arm, that the Grail quest might ensue.

He undertook the role as Maelgwn's representative, just as Gawain, Galahad and Peredur substituted for Arthur. The presence of Sannan and Gwenhwyfar respectively meant that the chieftains couldn't bed their own Goddesses, at least not with the legends then repeated in polite society.

For those wishing to see something much more prosaic and as told in these tales, ask yourself this: why didn't Rhun discern the roughness of a servant dressed up, seeing her whole, when the rest of the court worked it out from a mere finger?  And more to the point, why didn't he recognize Ellyw, when she is purported to be his aunt living close by?

Read the first of the stories as Maelgwn receiving the blessing of the Goddess to rejuvenate his land. Or to bring it back from the Wasteland of Christianity.

The second run in between Maelgwn and Taliesin is fairly self-explanatory, though there are layers to add.

The big one is that Heinen is a Saxon, not Welsh, name. Maelgwn is often portrayed as entertaining Germanic mercenaries, though never enough to swamp his realm. His bards may well have been telling Saxon stories in Deganwy, which may have felt very cosmopolitan at the time, but which worried those perceiving the threat to native culture.

Taliesin turned up with a purely British repertoire and that sang more to Maelgwn's soul than the music of the interlopers.

I would read the whole episode as Taliesin persuading Maelgwn to make his court a center for preserving the native lore and legends. Though that's a fairly shaky interpretation.

What's generally understood is that the triumph of Taliesin here was to secure the Cymric Bardic system. Anyone hearing him there wanted to be like him. Thus the past and all its legends and traditions were safe-guarded. The banner of the Bardic Mysteries over-shadowed the Bards.

Either way, read the second of the stories as Maelgwn elevating British spirituality over that emanating from foreign lands (which would, of course, include Christianity).

Finally we get a horse race, which has references to the Goddess Rhiannon layered on with a trowel. Not least the fact that it's held at Morfa Rhianedd!

In the Welsh legend of Rhiannon and Pwyll, She's on a slow-moving horse - a nag - which Pwyll can't catch despite being mounted upon a tremendous stallion.  It's only when he invites Her to stop of Her own accord, that he's able to make contact.

The Horse Goddess of Sovereignty initiates Pwyll - as chieftain - into a host of Mysteries, including time in the Underworld of Annwn, and a test of his faith, as their child is stolen.

Taking a leap of faith in order to trust the guidance of Rhiannon results in a cornucopia of wealth. This could be literally, in a bag that can't be filled, even when tonnes of produce are placed into it, or in the darker, deeper spiritual sense.

Rhiannon awards Her suitor with all the Mysteries of Britain, not to mention the land itself.

Read the final tale as Taliesin smiting the glossy, superficially superior stallions of foreign culture with the hazel branches of Druidry. Once accepted, then great riches will ensue. The Goddess Rhiannon leads the court to British treasures buried beneath Maelgwn's ground.

Once we scratch the surface, the whole sequence takes on a much deeper hue than a mere victory of Taliesin over an arrogant chieftain. By all reckoning, Maelgwn should end it all with simply executing Taliesin and that's the end of that. But he doesn't. He steps back and that is that.

Instead, we get Taliesin recalling in later poetry:

I liberated my lord in the presence of the Distributor.
Elffin the sovereign of greatly aspiring ones...
In the festivals of the Distributor, who bestowed gifts upon me.

The coda highlights the meaning of the legend, even if we hadn't already noticed the entwining of deities and real world people in a highly Druidic context.

It's difficult not to speculate then that Maelgwn Gwynedd's court became THE place for the remnants of the Druidic priesthood to gather. The rest of his reign provided the space and security for systems to be put in place, which would buffer the legends, history and treasures of Britain against the onslaught to follow.

In many ways, it was highly successful. Much was lost, but enough survived to piece the rest together.

The History and Legends of Wales

How much of this would we still know without that breathing space implied in the tales of Maelgwn and Taliesin?

Plague! The Coming of the Vad Velen

The terrible beast was predicted - some say cursed into being - by Taliesin to target Maelgwn Gwynedd. But it was already out there wreaking havoc on a global scale.

It makes a great story to say that the Vad Velen was summoned by Taliesin, the fulfillment of his prophecy. Moreover, the moralists love the fact that Maelgwn gained his comeuppance from it.

A most strange creature will come,
From the sea marsh of Rhianedd,
As a punishment of iniquity,
On Maelgwn Gwynedd;
His hair and his teeth,
And his eyes being as gold;
And this will bring destruction
On Maelgwn Gwynedd.

It's almost a shame to note that Taliesin's prophecy was probably an 18th century forgery by Iolo Morgannwg. But the Vad Velen did exist and it took out Maelgwn Gwynedd.

There has been so much emphasis on the written word and legends in this series, that we've not yet paused to examine the natural world in which Maelgwn Gwynedd lived. It was not pleasant.

Conquerors and conquests aside, edged with the conflict between religions, this was a period of terrible weather. Throughout the sixth century (and those either side) devastating storms came with an increasing ferocity.

There have been hints of this in the fact that Cantre'r Gwaelod - Gwyddno's land - was overwhelmed by rising tides. There's another legendary region lost too, just off the north coast of Gwynedd, beneath Deganwy. Llys Helig was a section of headland drowned beneath the waves, which was still noted as being there in maps as late as the 19th century.

Image: Map of Conwy and Llandudno (1805)
Image: Map of Conwy and Llandudno (1805)

Marine archaeologists have dived down to discover the seaweed draped ruins of old walls. It's estimated that it was inundated during the 6th century, which means that Maelgwn Gwynedd possibly witnessed it occurring.

When the Romans attacked Ynys Mon in the first century, it is notable that they were able to wade across the Menai Straits. Today that's impossible. A bridge or boat is required to traverse the watery distance, and the rising tides of the 6th century made that difference.

In addition to the terrible weather, there was also a series of unusual phenomena. Eclipses of the sun, meteor showers and the darkening of the daytime sky generally associated with major volcanic eruptions. In fact, the latter was most likely to blame for it all.

The fact that Maelgwn Gwynedd was able to retain his power and influence, in a culture where kings were historically sacrificed to appease the gods during times of bad weather and famine, says a lot about his personality. More so, when we realize that a body in the peat bog of Lancashire has been dated from this period. Those sacrifices were rare in the 6th century, but they did occur.

However, it wasn't just the climate which was against the global population of the time. The annals of every civilization around the world record terrible mortality. These were centuries crushed by smallpox and other epidemics, but worst of all were wave after wave of plague.

When we talk about the Black Death, or the Great Plague, usually historians are referring to the pandemic of 1348. But there's plenty of evidence that one equally deadly ravished the global population eight centuries previously.

Plague came throughout the 6th century, but the big one occurred during the 540s. It's often called Justinian's Plague, as he was the Roman emperor at the time.

It certainly came to the British Isles and Ireland, noted in the Annales Cambraie and the Annals of Ulster as isolated records of 'great mortality'. It's also recalled in our legends, as the cause of the Wasteland, particularly described in the Grail Cycle.

For some historians, this is precisely what killed Maelgwn Gwynedd in the end. But the historical coincidence of the timing doesn't appear to match the known facts.

As every Welsh school-child knows, Maelgwn was killed by the Vad Velen (aka Fall Felen, or tunc fuit Lallwelen).

St Teilo described it in the Book of Llandaf. The Vad Velen came 'as a column of a watery cloud, having one end trailing along the ground, and the other above, proceeding in the air'. It was yellow and it could be out-run. But any caught in its vapors died instantly.

That frankly doesn't sound like bubonic plague.

Nevertheless, Vad Velen is usually retrospectively translated as 'yellow plague' or 'yellow pestilence' despite that requiring a tremendous mangling of the Welsh language. Yellow is 'melyn' not 'melen', though the 'm' would mutate into an 'f' to create the 'v' sound. Unfortunately for linguistics, plague is nothing like 'vad', 'fall' nor 'lall'. It's pla, plâg or haint, with the verb options being: taro â phla; poeni, blino (which means 'tired'), aflonyddu or plagio.

What Vad Velen should translate as is rather more difficult, as it's Old Welsh (that's been Anglicized) with no actual equivalent in the modern language.

It's been speculated that the Vad Velen was the gases from Irish dead, left unburied on Ynys Mon since Cadwallon killed them all. But that occurred at least a decade previously. One would assume that the decomposing Gaels would now have been stripped to bones by the elements and ravens.

However, if the drowned population of Llys Helig were being washed upon the sands of Conwy Bay, then their remains would be perfectly placed to waft poisonous gases up towards Deganwy. Assuming, of course, that Maelgwn didn't order the burial of his own people.

It's also intriguing to note that during this period a 'fish famine' occurred in the River Conwy. All marine life was instantly killed there, meaning that fish carcasses floated on the surface, covering it all with the stench of decomposition, before all were washed out to sea.

What precisely killed them?

(I've still got scientist friends working on the answer, though much excitement has been caused by the realization that beneath Deganwy and that whole peninsula was the largest copper mine in ancient British history. Apparently the mixing of copper with some other element would cause a poisonous yellow cloud. You'll know more as soon as I do.)

What we can say is that Maelgwn Gwynedd saw his own death approaching as a physical thing to be avoided.

He evacuated his caer of Deganwy and headed east, presumably on foot, to dodge the oncoming column of yellow death.

Folklore sees him rushing into the church in nearby Rhos (Eglwys Rhos on the map above) and locking the door. Outside he could hear people dying as the Vad Velen swept over them.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of him. Maelgwn peeped through the keyhole of the church, whereby his eye was glazed by the yellow mists and he was killed instantly.

The Annales Cambraie records this as being in 547, wherein the entry reads:

'Mortalitas magna in qua pausat Mailcun rex Genedotae. Unde dicitur, 'Hir hun Wailgun en llis Ros.' Tunc fuit wallwelen.'

Translated from the Latin, that reads:

'The great death in which passed Mailcun King of the Venedoti. About whom it is said, 'The long sleep of Mailcun at the Court of Rhos.' Then there was the Vad Velen.'

'The long sleep of Maelgwn at the Court of Rhos' has continued to be a saying into modern times in Wales. It pretty much means the same as 'the sleep of the dead' or 'dead to the world' in English parlance, referring to someone very, very much asleep.

More Histories about the Catastrophic Sixth Century

The clues are plentiful. Putting them all together is slightly trickier, but people have made credible attempts to do so.

The Legacy of Maelgwn Gwynedd

It really is too soon to tell what effect his reign had on British history. It's only been fifteen centuries!

After Maelgwn's death, his wife Sannan is largely lost from the record, though St Sannan did appear over in Flintshire. She's probably the same person.

Rhun became the ruler of Gwynedd, resulting in plenty of legends name-checking him, but never so many as his father. He was part of a dynasty which would later produce some of the greatest names in Welsh history, including Owain Gwynedd, Llewelyn the Great and, of course, Owain Glyndŵr.

Eurgain's name continues to be used in folklore and legend. The whole family feature heavily in the names of places and landmarks.

It's believed that Maelgwn Gwynedd was the first to fly Y Ddraig Goch, as the banner of Gwynedd, which still flies now as the emblem of all Wales.

Taliesin relocated to the court of Urien Rheged, in modern day Lancashire/Cumbria. Most of his surviving verses date from there. Many of the twenty-seven bardic meters used in today's Eisteddfods are credited to his genius.

Gildas's sermon against Maelgwn Gwynedd remains the main non-Bardic source for a British voice from the whole sub-Roman historical era.  Christianity was firmly reintroduced into the British Isles, wherein it remains the predominant religion today.

But the Old Ways were never quite lost. During the 20th century, Paganism became the fastest growing religion in the world, and its expression in Wicca is the first British born faith to truly take off. Much of that, and Neo-Druidism, is based upon those legends, traditions and histories preserved in the Bardic record.

Deganwy, Aberffraw and many of the other locations mentioned in this telling now lie in ruins. But with the right kind of eyes, an imaginative mind can conceive what they were. And the towering mounds of Deganwy still overshadow the Norman castle built across the river to subjugate the Welsh. It too now stands crumbling, and above its ramparts flies Y Ddraig Goch.

The legends of the semi-mythical Maelgwn Gwynedd go on, captured in old manuscripts and retold again and again. This was my version. Cymru am byth.

Books about Maelgwn Gwynedd's Descendants

All histories have an arbitrary ending. For what happened next, these stories and legends will be informative.

More about Maelgwn Gwynedd

Occasionally a name leaps out of the annals of history with such force, that you just have to run with it. Maelgwn, ruler of Gwynedd, tested the patience of two saints.
In the tumultuous, blood-thirsty Age of Arthur, Maelgwn Hir still stood out as the wild boy of the Celtic nobility. Then, as Maelgwn Gwynedd, he rose to power.
Maelgwn the Great, Pendragon of Gwynedd, was possibly THE most powerful ruler in 6th century Celtic Britain. Only priests and bards dared rile him, and they did.
St Gildas certainly thought that Maelgwn Gwynedd had turned his back on God. But was the saint actually saying that the 6th century Welsh chieftain was a Druid?
Updated: 08/25/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 03/06/2015

Yes, I can see that being an accurate etymology.

frankbeswick on 01/27/2015

Thanks for that. I thought that that might be the case, but I do not know enough Welsh to be sure. Prichard probably was ap Richard, which is a Welsh-Norman cross.

JoHarrington on 01/27/2015

Frank - ap means 'son of', so exactly like 'Fitz' insofar as it's offspring, but not necessarily illegitimate. 'ap' was the norm (for males), with 'merch' or 'ferch' being the female equivalent.

JoHarrington on 01/27/2015

Peter - You're into patronymics. That was the Welsh way of rendering names, before the introduction of English style surnames in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some went on until the 20th.

frankbeswick on 01/24/2015

The Welsh and Norman aristocracy happily collaborated when it suited them, as they did in the first Norman invasion of Ireland. Interbreeding was therefore likely among these cronies. Hence ap might be a prefix similar to the Irish fitz, which indicates the illegitimate son of a noble, rather than one of their serfs/servants.

We have to be aware that aristocrats have been known to co-operate with invaders to keep their land, and the invaders often see them as useful allies. The Saxon thanes went along with William, though it did not help them in the long term.

PeterGodfrey on 01/24/2015

I have always assumed that some of the names beginning with P - Prichard (ap Richard) for example - were Norman slave names, (like Cassius Clay and de-Africanised names in the US) along with all the Williamses and Lewises, but that may not be the case. Certainly not Powell, for example. I'm going to look through Kilhwch and Olwen again to see if there is anything there that might be of interest.

JoHarrington on 01/16/2015

I've been digging in to find out anything I can about Mortimer's Cross - how it got its name (beyond what seems obvious) in particular. But you're right. There is a distinct lack of information in the historical record.

I'm quite used to blanks, given the number of times that Welsh and Marches documentation has been destroyed over the years. But this one appears Norman related, hence you'd have expected some survival. Unless it's old Henry Tudor to blame again.

And yes, re what Frank wrote regarding what happens to names under Occupations. It happens across the board - look at Romanisations under the Roman Occupation etc. Plus you have another factor, which is older names appearing in their Latin form, when it's only ever monks recording them.

JoHarrington on 01/16/2015

Strata Florida keeps coming up again and again and again just recently. I think I'm going to take a deeper look there. This isn't just with regard to the Mortimers either. Until you mentioned it, I had no idea of their involvement.

You do have me thinking through. Have you ever heard of anything involving the Mortimers and the Arthurian legend? Call it a hunch.

frankbeswick on 01/14/2015

One factor to be considered is that certain non-Normans normanized their names to gain status. For example, the Fitzpatrick clan in Ireland sound Norman, but in fact they were an Irish clan who decided to sound classier, so they ditched the Gaelic name and took a Norman one. Note how old Saxon forenames fell out of use after the Norman conquest.

I agree that the name Mortimer's Cross precedes the battle, as battles take their names from existing landmarks.

petergodfrey on 01/13/2015

Indeed. Gwynne Williams says that "Welshmen became citizens, merchants, and knights" under the Normans, and mentions Mortimer having some involvement with Strata Florida - so they were not just concerned with the Marches, but also deepest Ceredigion.


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